William Tyndale was another distinguished alumnus from Oxford University. According to tradition, he was born in North Nibley some 100 years after John Wycliffe. He was privileged to be enrolled into Magdalen Hall for studies in 1505. He was then just a young boy around the age of 11.

Alas, Tyndale was not especially fond of his education. He felt that many of the lessons were diverging from the true purpose of the Scriptures and devoid of any spiritual sight and theology. Nevertheless, it was during this period that he became drawn to God’s Word and began to expound it to his fellow students in Magdalen Hall. He would probably also have studied under John Colet, a professor of Greek, who was renowned for his devotion to let the text of Scripture speak for itself. Tyndale thus grew to be “a man of most virtuous disposition, and of life unspotted.” (John Foxe) The light of Christ was shining brightly in him.

Tyndale graduated from Oxford in 1515 with a Master in Arts. He then enrolled into Cambridge where he was influenced by the writings of Eras-mus and Luther. He was also a member of the White Horse Inn, which was a fellowship group started by Thomas Bilney. This group met often for Bible studies, prayers and discussions in theology, similar to the Fundamental Christian Ministry today. Some significant members of this group were Thomas Cramer, Hugh Latimer, Robert Barnes, Miles Cover-dale and John Rogers.

Tyndale began to develop a distaste for the state of the priesthood. He was aghast at their lack of understanding of the Scriptures. The Bible was kept hidden from the people. They had to go to a priest for the Word of God to be interpreted to them. Yet, many of the priests could not translate a single word of the Lord’s Prayer into English. The people were thus ignorant of the teachings of Scripture.

Tyndale admired how the Lollards strove to make God’s Word known to the people. He was convicted that the only way to open the people’s eyes to spiritual truth was to have the Bible translated into the vernacular. He boldly proclaimed to one self-conceited priest, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

As Tyndale was unable to find support for his work in London, he went to Wittenberg where he spent about 10 months translating the New Testament into English. Unlike John Wycliffe who translated from the Latin Vulgate, Tyndale translated directly from the Greek text. He later published 6000 copies of the NT in English at Worms. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury caught wind of the news and sought to burn up the copies. Nevertheless, some copies of the first printing survived. Further copies were made by the people after the death of Tyndale.

William Tyndale began translating the Old Testament in 1527. By this time, he was labelled as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church and was often on the run. Nevertheless, the Lord preserved him for many years.

Finally, the enemies of Tyndale employed an agent in Belgium to trap him. The name of the agent was Henry Phillips. Phillips became a trusted confidante of Tyndale, and was often a guest at the dinner table. He was also shown the secrets of Tyndale’s books and operations. In May 1535, Phillips lured Tyndale straight into a band of soldiers in a narrow alley of Antwerp. Just like David and Jesus, William Tyndale was betrayed by a “friend” – “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” (Ps. 41:9) God spare us from such men! May none of us ever be found a traitor!

Despite his imprisonment, Tyndale maintained his testimony and zeal for God’s Word. According to Foxe, his doctrine and witness were so powerful that “he converted his keeper, the keeper’s daughter, and others of his household; also the rest that were with Tyndale conversant in the Castle reported of him that if he were not a good Christian man, they could not tell whom to trust.”

One letter written to a prison warden captured the spirit of Tyndale in prison:

“I beg your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here through the winter, you will request the Commissary to have the kindness to send me from the goods of mine which he has, a warmer cap; for I suffer greatly from cold in the head, and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh which is much increased in this cell; a warmer coat also, for this which I have is very thin; a piece of cloth too to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out; my shirts also are worn out. He has a woollen shirt if he will be good enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth to put on above; he has also warmer night caps. And I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome, sitting alone in the dark.

“But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Commissary that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, He-brew grammar and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in study. In return, may you obtain what you most desire, so only that it be for the salvation of your soul.”

Tyndale was burnt at the stake on 6 October 1536 in Vilvoorde, just out-side Brussels. Before he died, Tyndale prayed aloud, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.”

How wonderful it is that after his death, the same king ordered a Bible to be distributed to every church. Finally, in 1611, the sitting king commissioned the translation of the Authorised Version. The influence of Tyndale can be seen clearly in the Authorised Version – 84% of the New Testament and 76% of the Old Testament retained the translation of Tyndale!

We owe much to Tyndale and the Reformers for easy access to the Word of God today. A memorial stands on a hill in North Nibley as a testimony of his stand for Christ. Let us not just be thankful of God’s work through the Reformers but also walk in the same spirit. May God’s Word be central in our lives.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew